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New World: Pinot Noir – excluding New Zealand

Strength in depth this year, with Chile (cheap), Australia (mid-price) and California (expensive) sharing nearly all the medals

This ‘Rest of New World’ Pinot Noir section has developed a comforting pattern over the past few years, with the Gold List usually made up of a sub-£10 Chilean bargain and something around the £15 mark from Australia. Occasionally, if they’re feeling particularly magnanimous, our tasters might throw in something expensive but classy from California as well.

And so it was again this year. With no medals from South Africa and only one from Argentina this came down to a three-way scrap between Chile, Australia and California. The latter was something of a wild card, since it’s rarely delivered more than one show-off Gold every year, but here, despite high prices, our tasters liked the wines enough to back up the delicious Paul Hobbs with a couple of Silvers and a Bronze.

It’s true that, as some tasters pointed out, at these kinds of price the wines are going head to head with Burgundy. But perhaps it’s time that sommeliers stopped benchmarking every good, ambitious New World bottle against established European equivalents.

‘There is no problem selling New World Pinot,’ commented York & Albany’s Nigel Lister. ‘The wine can go to three figures so long as the quality is excellent, because people know what they will get.’

Chile, as is its wont, trundled round the bottom of the financial fish tank, with the Concha Explorer quite exceptional value at £5.38. ‘Too many in the mid-range were trying too hard, and were a little overworked by the winemakers,’ said team leader Peter McCombie MW. ‘It detracted from all that fresh varietal fruit that people look to Chile for.’

This, in fact, opened up an interesting debate. Should Chile’s winemakers pursue elegance – as many observers would have them believe – or is there a market for softer, juicier versions of Pinot (such as the Concha) that are less complex but more approachable?

The key, for some, was regionality. If Chile can ‘sell’ regions like Casablanca to the public, then it can sell elegance. But if the public’s knowledge is way behind the wine style, then restraint and elegance might not be an advantage.

‘Who knows where Casablanca is?’ asked Simon Woods rhetorically. ‘I don’t think people are thinking in those terms.’

If Chile was mostly about the cheaper wines, then Australia was the opposite. Here we saw the kind of superlatives that we might have expected more of from New Zealand. Words like ‘excellent’ and ‘great value’ came up repeatedly. And while it might have been nice to see a few more of the Bronzes converted to Silver or above, five medals, one of them Gold, was a good enough haul to have our sommeliers reconsidering their opinions.

‘If these wines were from another country you could probably add £10 on to the price,’ said Coq d’Argent’s Olivier Marie. ‘Australia doesn’t really have the reputation for Pinot Noir yet.’

That could change – provided the on-trade isn’t looking for anything sub-£40 on a list. The country didn’t manage a single medal under £10, and, for most tasters, didn’t really hit its straps until around the £12 mark. But once there it delivered wines of some considerable elegance and class.

‘The quality is there,’ said Jeremie Guiraud from Lords of the Manor. ‘It’s much cheaper than Burgundy but you can still find a real mix of styles.’

De Bortoli must be pleased at following up its Silver of last year for Riorret The Abbey with a Gold for the Emu expression in 2013.

‘This was proper Pinot,’ said Martin Lam of Ransome’s Dock. ‘It had clear varietal style, pretty but with a purity to the fruit, lively but with enough concentration and complexity. This would cope with a variety of dishes, from weightier fish to meat, so a useful choice for a table.’

‘The Australian Pinots would be easy to sell because they do deliver, with complexity and fruit definition. People would definitely want a second bottle.’
Olivier Marie, Coq d’Argent

‘The Chilean Pinots went from £5 to £14, which was absolutely spot on in terms of price. The expectation still is that Chilean Pinot Noir has to come in under NZ price-wise, although this may change.’
Peter McCombie MW, team leader

‘I’m happy with Burgundian-leaning New World Pinot Noirs, though sometimes they can go too far. Customers who drink New World Pinot look for fruitiness and approachability in the wines.’
Grace Matterson, Rockliffe Hall